The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey
"But my staff, after I got elected, my staff would say, ‘Well, you can’t go down there and talk about being a welfare mother because that’s all you’re going to be known for.’ And my answer was, ‘If I don’t do it, who will? I mean, come on! You’ve got to show by example. You can’t just talk about things.’ And it turned out that that wasn’t all I was known for, and I would stand on the floor, and I could—and I remember this, and I was part of the welfare reform, well, I was one of the co-chairs of the Welfare Reform Caucus in the House . . . . And I would stand on the floor and be talking about my experiences, and the place would be, you could hear a pin drop."
—The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey, March 7, 2016
U.S. Representative from California (January 3, 1993–January 3, 2013)
Elected in 1992—the “Year of the Woman”—Lynn C. Woolsey joined 23 other freshman women Representatives in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995). Woolsey used her experience as a member of the Petaluma city council in California to mount a successful congressional campaign and to build a two-decade career in the U.S. House. In her oral history, she reflects on her first Democratic primary—a crowded, competitive race where she distinguished herself by sharing her experiences as a single mother on welfare. As a Member of Congress, Woolsey continued to talk about her time on welfare, seeking to educate her colleagues and to bring a new perspective to the debate on government assistance for women and children.
During her 20 years in the House, Woolsey often called upon her activist roots—something she describes in her interview. As a leading member of the Progressive Caucus, for example, the California Representative promoted a more active role for the growing organization in the institution. A staunch opponent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Woolsey provides background on the founding of the Out of Iraq Caucus and her persistent efforts to draw attention to the growing anti-war movement, including her many floor speeches on the topic. In her oral history, Woolsey also speaks about the bonds formed among women Members, the ways in which they mentored and encouraged newly-elected female Representatives, and her observations about the Democratic whip operation.
WOOLSEY, Lynn C., a Representative from California; born in Seattle, King County, Wash., November 3, 1937; graduated from Lincoln High School, Seattle, Wash.; attended the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash., 1955–1957; B.S., University of San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif., 1980; human resources manager and personnel service owner; teacher, Marin Community College, Indian Valley, Calif.; instructor, Dominican College of San Rafael, Calif.; member, Petaluma, Calif., city council, 1984–1992; vice mayor, Petaluma, Calif., 1989 and 1992; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Third and to the nine succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1993–January 3, 2013); was not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Thirteenth Congress in 2012.
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"It Was Important That I Be Popular"
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey recalls the lessons she learned growing up in the 1950s.
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey describes the importance of using the same design for her campaign material throughout her political career.
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey remembers how she set herself apart from the other candidates during her first congressional campaign in 1992.
Making a Choice
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey remembers choosing to focus on her district instead of correcting the paternalism she witnessed in the House.
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey reflects on how she prioritized which committees she sought to serve on throughout her time in Congress.
"You Think I'm Pat Schroeder"
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey recalls being mistaken for Representative Pat Schroeder of Colorado.
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey remembers learning why some Members did not prioritize creating friendships within Congress.
Welfare Mother in Congress
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey describes talking openly to her colleagues about her experiences as a single mother on welfare.
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey remembers being the first woman on the Members' basketball team.
Protest in the Senate
The Honorable Lynn C. Woolsey recalls visiting the Senate with other House Members to discuss discrimination against women with Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.